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“Our long, hard work over the past years, to build our parish, has had its rewards, for which we are grateful. It was with a certain degree of pride that this history was written, because, I must add, it took a special kind of people to bring the parish to what it is today. It is our parish and we are proud of it!” —Paul Lettau

2018 Catholic Exponent Article on St. Joseph Parish

Parish Timeline:

1966: The Decree of Erection of the New St. Joseph Parish by Bishop James W. Malone, became effective June 17. Fr. John F. Lyons was to be the first pastor. The first Mass was celebrated at the Wellman’s Wedgewood Cinema.

1968: The first Mass was offered in the new church on June 16. St. Joseph School began that same year on September 3, under the direction of the Sisters of Notre Dame.

1970: Formal Parish Council was established in October.

1976: “Christ Renews His Parish” was begun,

1980: Construction of Mercy Hall was begun the summer of this year and completed in February 1981. The building was dedicated on March 23.

1990: Fr. Lyons retired and Fr. Frederick F. Lukehart became the parish’s second pastor. In December, Michael Roberts was ordained to the permanent diaconate.

1991: The Parish celebrates its 25th Silver Anniversary with a special Mass.

1997: Parish Three-Year Restoration and Renovation Program was begun. The pledge drive raised $600,000. The Project was completed in the year 2000.

1998: On November 28 Fr. J. James Korda succeeded Fr. Lukehart as the third pastor of St. Joseph Parish.

2000: Renovations of the church and sanctuary was begun in January and dedicated by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin on the parish’s Feast Day, March 19.

2001: The Parish of St. Joseph celebrates its 35th Anniversary.

2004: Fr. John S. Trimbur becomes fourth pastor of St. Joseph Parish

2009: Fr. Gregory F. Fedor becomes fifth pastor of St. Joseph Parish.

2016: The Parish celebrates its 50th Anniversary with a special Mass and a banquet.

2016: The Parish expands its all-ages faith formation efforts by launching Growing Families.

2017: The Parish launches a strategic planning process to address ministry priorities.

2018: The Parish is selected as one of 24 churches to participate in a national ecumenical ministry development process, Creating a Culture of Calling, funded by a Lilly Grant and sponsored by Vibrant Faith Ministries.

2020: During the coronavirus pandemic, the parish expands its digital outreach by focusing more on the promotion and use of its website, Facebook page,  and YouTube page. State of the art video production equipment and software are purchased, and the Blue Room is renovated into a full-service Zoom room and renamed the Mackin Room in honor of the principle donor. All masses and communion services are livestreamed.

2020: Caring Neighbors is launched in experimental form to address the needs of parishioners who are experiencing isolation due to the pandemic.

2023: The parish launches prison ministry with the establishment of a Hope Letter group.

Over the years…

Pastors: Associate Pastors:
Fr. John F. Lyons Fr. Timothy E. Kenney
Fr. Fredrick F. Lukehart Fr. Thomas J. McCarthy
Fr. J. James Korda Fr. Michael J. Smar
Fr. John S. Trimbur Fr. Dennis R. Grabowski
Fr. Gregory F. Fedor Fr. Raymond R. Crumbly
Fr. David W. Merzweiler
Fr. Melvin E. Rusnak
Fr. John S. Trimbur
Fr. J. Terrence Simko
Fr. Thomas I. Bissler
Fr. Lawrence E. Frient
Fr. Joseph James
Fr. Edward Brienz
Fr. Charles Poore

A History of St. Joseph Parish
Austintown, Ohio

Adapted from a writing by Paul Lettau which he began in 1979.
(Paul was one of the original parishioners.)

After World War II, some startling changes occurred in population location around Youngstown. Many returning G.I.’s who were raising families, moved out of the city into suburbia. This movement did not go unnoticed by Bishop Emmet M. Walsh and the Diocese of Youngstown. Many new parishes were formed as the Catholic population in each area increased. Although Austintown Catholics were being served by Immaculate Heart of Mary, and St. Christine parishes, many retained their status as members of nationality parishes throughout Youngstown. As time passed, some of these were phased out, or moved. The old St. Joseph Church downtown, at the corner of Wick and Rayen, met the same fate. It served as the Newman Center thereafter, until its demolition in 1991.


On June 6, 1966, an official decree establishing the new St. Joseph Parish in Austintown was sent out by Bishop James Malone. It became effective June 17, 1966. With the decree came the appointment of the Rev. John F. Lyons to be the first pastor. Appointed as his assistant was Rev. Timothy E. Kenney. Both were abruptly transplanted from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in McDonald and told, “This is your parish… build!”

Various people, including Msgr. William P. Maxwell, pastor of St. Brendan’s, contributed help, advice, and knowledge in the search for available land. A rectangular site of 15 acres at 4545 New Rd. was purchased for $80,000.

In addition, Msgr. Gordon G. Gutman of St. Christine’s made a hall available for the earliest meetings of St. Joseph groups; John Shutrump made two apartments available on Raccoon Road for use as a ‘rectory’; and Peter Wellman allowed use of the new, but not quite completed, Wedgewood Theatre for Sunday Masses.


By October of 1966, things were beginning to get organized. Fr. Lyons appointed nine men – Joe Bryan, Chuck Claypoole, Art DePaola, Al Dotta, Oliver Jenkins, Al Knecht, Paul Lettau, Vincent Mahoney, and Carl Scheetz – as the original parish councilmen. Paul Lettau’s basement on New Road became the council’s meeting place.


A contract was awarded to Vito Nespeca for the construction of the church, school, and social hall. After many weeks of discussion, planning, and prayer, the Bishop gave the go-ahead for construction. Funds had to be raised. Because most parishioners had been recently involved in pledges and fundraising in their previous parishes, a noble effort was undertaken to build this new parish without bingo, festivals, or pledges, deferring instead to a suggested weekly offering of $5.00 per family. Some more than met the challenge and still do, some never quite made it, but together, the funds were developed to build the church.

Architect Leonard Friedman was selected to design the new parish buildings; the general contractor chosen for the first building – the rectory – was Ernest DeChellis. A little more than a year after Bishop Malone’s decree, the rectory was completed by the contractor, except for cost-saving interior and exterior painting and varnishing of woodwork which was done by parishioners and friends.

As the new associations between parishioners spawned firm and lasting friendships, their developed a good ‘family’ type attitude. Entire families came to the grounds on Saturdays, weeknights, and free time to lend a hand in the landscaping. Also, on the property was a solid mass of evergreen trees that a group of men undertook to clear away for the future church, school, and social hall. Christmas was approaching, and so it was decided to sell the trees at $2.00 each, dug, or cut, any size, or type. About $12,000 was raised from the sale. Many trees were also transplanted in order to landscape homes along New Road, Raccoon Road, and Fairground Boulevard in Canfield.


The parish grounds were dedicated on a cold, blustery March 19, 1967, the feast of St. Joseph. Snow was still covering the ground, in order to make the groundbreaking possible, tires and branches were burned to thaw out the soil which was then covered with straw.

As the site preparation was progressing, many truckloads of ash, cinders, and dirt were hauled in to level the deep ravine that traversed what was to become the parking lot. Bulldozing and leveling was followed by Saturday ‘burning sessions’ to rid the area of tree stumps. A work crew of parishioners also hand dug and transplanted about 20 large blue spruce trees to the area just behind Lyons Hall.

While Sunday Masses continued at the Wedgewood Theatre, the new church taking shape. At the theatre, the families of John Daubenspeck and Don Caspary faithfully set up the altar, cross, candles, and folding chairs, then put them away each Sunday. Finally, the first Mass in the new church was celebrated by Fr. Lyons on June 16, 1968. September saw the opening of grades one and two at the new St. Joseph School. Thereafter, one grade was added each year until there were five grades of two classes each led by the Sisters of Notre Dame under Sister Mary Adelle, Principal.

Over the years, St. Joseph Parish has been an apprentice ground for several young Deacons who later became priests in the Diocese. First to become an ordained priest from St. Joseph Parish was Thomas P. Dyer. Rev. Dyer celebrated his first Mass at St. Joseph Church on May 25th, 1969.

Fr. Thomas McCarthy replaced Fr. Kenney as assistant pastor, later to be replaced by Fr. Michael Smar, and he, in turn, by Fr. Dennis Grabowski. Next, as assistant pastor, came Fr. Raymond Crumbly.


Parish clubs and organizations began first with the Men’s Club, then Ladies Guild, eventually to be added to by Home & School Association, Garden Club, Legion of Mary, Parish Council, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, CYO, GoldenAgers, Adult Altar Servers, Altar boys, Concert and Folk Choir, Engaged Couples, Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors, God’s Footprints, Parent’s Club, St. Vincent dePaul Society, and Ushers.

The St. Joseph Men’s Club undertook the landscaping and care of the grounds and extensive portions of the buildings and land, as well as furnishing the chairs and tables in the social hall. The club purchased tractors, mowers, and tools, and in different seasons, made sure the lawns and flower beds were kept attractive. The Ladies Guild contributed greatly in furnishing the church organ, carpeting, drapes, many items for the school, as well as gifts to the pastor for parish needs. They, and the Men’s Club, worked together on many dances and dinners. The Home & School Association became the right arm to the school principal through fundraising, and preparing noon meals for the children. The Garden Guild made the church a place of beauty at Christmas and Easter. The very faithful Legion of Mary group offered extra prayers that seemed attributable for the blessings showered on St. Joseph.


With the advent of laity participation to a greater degree in Masses, excellent use was made of both youth and adults as servers, while many others came to give of their time as Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors, and Ushers. An excellent choir was developed under the direction of Judy Braun, the church organist. Parishioner participation in singing was enhanced by Rosemary Jenkins in her role as Cantor. Another group, the Folk Choir, employed guitars and flutes with their singing, enhancing the Masses in yet another special way.             Early in parish history, tragedy struck in one of the pioneer families with the deaths of Thomas and Roy Scheetz, young sons of Carl and Lee Scheetz. The boys died in a treehouse fire. The statue immediately in front of the church was placed there was a memorial to the boys through contributions from friends, relatives, and parishioners. The statue depicts St. Joseph with the child Jesus, it is a lasting, and beautiful tribute, sculpted in Italy, of white marble standing on a black marble base.


The church interior became a subject of turmoil the day before the finished church was to be dedicated. Three carved wooden statues, the Sacred Heart, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Joseph, arrived in Cleveland from Italy. After much trepidation on the part of parishioners, the statues finally proceeded through customs and to the church. In order to mount them on the walls, plans had to be drawn hurriedly for steel mounting brackets which had to be welded, drilled and fastened to the walls…all in time for the Dedication Mass the next day.


Also inside the church, the Stations of the Cross, depicting Christ’s agonizing journey of the first Good Friday, are beautiful tablets over one hundred fifty years old. When the old St. Patrick’s Church in Hubbard was being converted to a parish hall, a group of St. Joseph parishioners went to get some of the unneeded pews, and seeing the stations still on the walls, asked for them too. After cleaning them up with dish soap and some tender care, they were placed on the west wall of the sanctuary. A crucifix of carved wood was put into place above the altar, It’s presence a most realistic and faithful reminder to us of Christ’s sacrifice for us.

A formal Parish Council was established in October of 1970, men and women chosen each year by the pastor, or elected by parish vote, to serve thereon. Some of the earliest leadership for Parish Council included Bernie Herschel, Neil Shira, Joe Schaeffer, and Jim Williams.


An inspirational, spiritual activity called “Christ Renews His Parish” began in 1976. Twenty to thirty different parishioners participated in each weekend-long retreat (renewal) held twice a year. Thus, there were two groups of men, and two groups of women experiencing renewal each year.


Despite flooding in the rectory from backed-up drains, pipes in the school freezing, bursting, and spurting water all over the classrooms, despite water backed up to and through the rear doors of the school when snow thawed and could not run off properly, remedies and solutions by administration, staff, and parishioners met every challenging problem. One major problem fostered a nine-day novena to St. Joseph in the spring of 1979. This well-attended novena was for the purpose of gaining employment for many who had lost their jobs due to closing of the steel mills and a general recession. Bishop Malone and several pastors of the Diocese presented messages of hope.

It would take volumes to cite all who so willingly helped over the years, but in looking over the buildings and grounds, one cannot help but reflect on the efforts of Carl Scheetz, the parish custodian (deceased, 1988) and his wife Lee (deceased, 1991), in keeping all of the properties in good condition.


In the summer of 1980, the Parish Council took under study the addition of about 5,000 sq. ft. of construction to the east end of the school building for a kindergarten and for future changes and needs of the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades which were being progressively added. Included in the addition would be shower rooms, restrooms, and additional storage facilities. Another long-awaited improvement was to be a small meeting room, 20×60 ft. Equipped with a kitchen, and storage space, to be used for group meetings, family and guest gatherings after funerals, retreat meetings, etc. This room was to become Lyons Hall.

The council voted to proceed. Architect Leonard Friedman drew up the plans and, after revisions, bidding was solicited. Ernest DeChellis was selected as general contractor, John Komar for plumbing, and Beil Electric as electrician. The project came to completion in February, 1981, and the dedication was held on March 23rd.

The summer of 1980 brought Fr. David Merzweiler on temporary assignment to St. Joseph and he immediately became a member of the parish family.


The original buildings were paid off in 1980, a remarkable accomplishment considering the changing economy. That done, the church was then improved with the installation of beautiful art glass windows with religious motifs. The open land behind the social hall was graded and a v-shaped ditch was dug behind the buildings, adjacent to the pine woods to relieve the drainage problem.

In August of 1981, the condition of the properties was excellent – flower beds in bloom, shrubs trimmed, grass in good shape and not a weed showing! At the time, it represented the work of just a handful of men volunteering their help each Saturday. In the same month, the weekly collection was averaging about $5,300, bingo was well attended and the various clubs were functioning well. In the following month, Fr. John Ashton, recently returned from Rome, began a residency at St. Joseph rectory, pending a future assignment.

Some notes from November, 1981: a successful Thanksgiving Clothing Drive was held again this year resulting in two large trailers-full of clothing being shipped for the poor and needy. St. Vincent dePaul Society was actively pursuing its mission of the monment raising funds for Fr. Ritter’s Runaway Group in New York. The choir was preparing a Christmas Cantata of carols for the season. New, decorated Christmas trees were being purchased by the Ladies Guild. Year-end outside work was done, painting of the rectory and the new building additions were complete. Plans were made to replace the steel gates on the west driveways. And Fr. Crumbly was replaced by Fr. Melvin Rusnak.

In July of 1982, Fr. John Trimbur arrived to replace Fr. Rusnak and soon became recognized for his active participation in and support of St. Joseph clubs and organizations. As the year ended, the parish was moving along in good fashion, though the economy was slow. In spite of layoffs and shortened work schedules, parish support held up. Mowing and snow removal equipment were updated with new purchases.

The winter of 1982 was noted as having been a severe one when March, 1983 rolled around. It took three days to clear snow in the parking lot, and three weeks for the piles of snow to melt. Carl Scheetz and Floyd Beike changed lighting in the social hall and kitchen, and installed sodium lights in the front and sides of the church. The parish Finance Committee was established in 1983 as well.


A well-earned celebration of 40 years in the priesthood for Fr. John Lyons on Sunday, June 1, 1986. Fr. Lyons himself, was principal celebrant for the 12:30 PM Mass which was followed by a ‘Jubilee Day’ social hour, dinner, and program at the Maronite Center. Irish eyes were smiling brighter than ever that day, since relatives from the old sod had come over especially for the event.

In 1987 Associate Pastor Trimbur transferred to Immaculate Heart of Mary and was replaced by Fr. Terrence Simko who, after a short stay, was replaced by Fr. Tom Bissler. After about 12 years, the ‘Christ Renews His Parish’ program ended.


In 1989, there was established a 3-year program for parishioners titled ‘Renew’. It was parishioner Chuck Krakora who coordinated the ‘Renew’ program. The grounds crew made a number of improvements in the old garage which had become a fine storage and repair shop.

The decade of the 1990’s began with questions that led to remodeling the inside front wall of the sanctuary for liturgical correctness. Ernie DeChellis was the general contractor for the word which included covering the concrete block walls behind the altar with oak paneling and adding permanent choral riser and seating for the choir. The year brought a far greater impact on the parish – the retirement of Fr. John Lyons after 24 years as pastor of St. Joseph Church. In the near quarter-century of Fr. Lyons’ parish-building leadership, he conducted many baptism, first sacraments, and marriages of parishioners…and he said may funeral Masses too. In good times and bad, he proved exceptional as shepherd and administrator.


Fr. Lyons’ successor was Fr. Frederick F. Lukehart who had previously headed St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Conneaut. Fr. Lukehart brought with him a depth of background as pastor, associate pastor, high school principal, and teacher. Fr. Lawrence Frient, formerly Associate Pastor at St. Paul Parish in Canton, joined St. Joseph’s as Associate Pastor at the same time.

The latter part of 1990 brought with it the inception of a Diocesan developed Stewardship Program, opening wide-ranging opportunities for parishioners to offer their time, talents, and an increase of treasure to infuse new and greater spiritual responsibilities and energies for the growth and advancement of St. Joseph Church and School.


Another notable date comes up in our history, Saturday, December 15, 1990: long-time parish member, Michael Roberts was ordained the first Deacon at St. Joseph. A Mass of Thanksgiving and Buffet-Reception for Deacon Roberts was held at the church and social hall.

[Deacon Michael Roberts served St. Joseph Church for many years until his retirement in 2011.]

In 1991, St. Joseph School received the honor of being the only school of the Diocese of Youngstown to win the East Ohio Gas Company’s “Good Neighbor Award”, bestowed because of the school’s multi-faceted ‘Corporal Works of Mercy’ – a year-long program.


With the formation of a 25th Anniversary Planning Committee comprised of Pat Bokesch, chairperson; Pat Beike, co-chairperson; Fr. Lukehart, Fr. Frient, Deacon Roberts, George Beelen, Paul Frabutt, Paul Lettau, Matt Ryznar, Gene Springer, Betty Voiner, Frank Voiner, Joyce Whited, and George Zokle, a special effort got under way to observe and to celebrate in various ways, St. Joseph’s Silver Anniversary. The celebration began Sunday, October 6, 1991, 25 years to the day after the first Mass held in Wedgewood Theatre. Bishop Malone was principal celebrant for the 12:30pm Silver Anniversary Mass. Concelebrants included Pastor Lukehart, Associate Pastor Frient, and Pastor Emeritus Lyons. An afternoon and early evening program consisting of a reception, dinner, and dancing was held at the Tippecanoe House in Cornersburg.